Monday, May 26, 2008

Camping at Woraksan

Heather, Aaron, and I at the (false) summit of Mt. Woraksan
A Buddhist temple all decked out for Buddha's birthday
Me taking a post-hike nap on a rock in the river.
Preparing a delicious s'more for breakfast!
The broken-down car by the side of the highway.
During the weekend of May 10-12, we had a 3 day weekend for Buddha's birthday, so a group of 5 of us borrowed a car from some other SIS teachers and went to Woraksan National Park, about 3 hours southeast of Seoul. We left Friday after school and got to the park with enough light to set up our tents. The campground was basically empty except for us that first night, which was nice. It was interesting because they had these tent spots set up with just a few inches between each spot, so when it was full, you'd be getting really cozy with your neighbors!
Saturday morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day. The campground was right by a little river with a great rock in the middle that we took advantage of to sun ourselves while reading. After a slow wake up, we went for a hike up Woraksan mountain. On the way to the top, we passed by Dongmun, which Lonely Planet says is the east gate of an ancient mountain fortress. Parts of the wall have recently been rebuilt and it was all pretty impressive. Farther up was a temple with a gorgeous Buddha. Since it has been rainy recently, the hills were a beautiful green, covered with trees and plants. Aaron and Heather and I managed to get up to the false summit, but hadn't brought quite enough water to make it all the way to the top. Luckily the view from the false summit was fantastic, so I didn't feel bad at all about turning around.
After coming back from the hike, we stopped by the little store across the street from the camp ground and got some lemonade, limade, and soju, which is the Korean version of vodka. Turns out that those 3 beverages fit perfectly in a Nalgene bottle and are delicious together! So between the 3 of us, we managed to go through 7 or 8 Nalgene bottle cocktails which made for a fun evening! It wouldn't have been so bad if the Koreans who came to camp for Saturday night didn't all get up bright and early at 6 AM and made no effort to be quiet. But we needed to get on the road anyway, because we were heading to the coast.
We drove for about 3 hours through the mountains to get to Samcheok on the east coast of the country. After going to a park on the beach, we went further up the coast and found a minbak, which means that you get some blankets and a floor to sleep on. The beach was a beautiful white sand beach with barbed wire on parts of it to protect us from a North Korean invasion, so that made me feel safe!
The next morning we got going quite early to beat the traffic back to Seoul. It was the first time I had driven our borrowed car and after driving for about 15 minutes, a strange rattling noise started. Then the temperature gauge started going up quickly and by the time I pulled over, smoke/steam was coming out from under the hood! So we called the Korean 911 and about 10 minutes later two guys came and looked at our car and, what they thought was more important, our towing insurance papers. They called a tow truck and about 20 minutes later one showed up. Since there were 5 of us in the car and only space for 2 of us in the tow truck, the other 3 of us got to to ride in the back of the car as it was being towed! And that guy wasn't letting the fact that he was towing a car and 3 passengers slow him down...he was in the left lane and passing folks for most of the 20 minute trip! So the car was taken to a shop in Gangneung, the largest city on the NE coast of Korea. Needless to say, no one at the shop spoke English, so we got one of the Korean SIS teachers on the phone and she translated for us. We figured out, through her, that it was a broken head gasket and would cost 400,000 won, or about $400, and would take at least a week to fix. After talking to the car owners, we all piled in a cab and went to the bus station, where we caught a bus back to Seoul. It actually didn't take all that long, even with bad traffic, and luckily I still had batteries in my iPod, so I was able to catch up on all my NPR podcasts! All in all, it was a really fun weekend and now I have my broken-down-car-in-Korea story!

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